Ford constructs one car for one world with new Contour sedan
Date Posted: 5/10/2005
Above where the Russian River reaches the Pacific Ocean some 60 miles north of San Francisco, California's coastal highway scales golden bluffs in an undulating circuit of switchbacks and hairpins that ranks as one of the world's most challenging -- but breathtaking -- roads.
This spaghetti strand of pavement, stretched tight against the contoured lip of a continent, served as my definitive track to test the lively spirit of a revolutionary new car produced by Ford.
Called Contour, the 4-door notchback sedan looks like a compact but carves out the interior space of a midsize model. It replaces compact Tempo, squeezing into Ford's 1995 line between subcompact Escort and the larger Taurus.
Unlike Tempo, though, Contour is cute. Its shapely exterior styling matches the name.
With optional V6 power, it's also quite lively.
Laced with sophisticated mechanical hardware, Contour can perform nimble tricks usually reserved for a sports car. Its knobs and levers, buttons and dials operate with a functional precision once associated only with fine imports. Also, it carries a full complement of safety features and comfort fittings -- yet comes with stunningly low prices.
Contour could take a bite out of the import market, but that's the big idea behind Ford's first global car.
"Contour represents an international effort though Ford Motor Company's worldwide operations to produce high quality vehicles for multiple markets," Alex Trotman, Ford's chairman, explained over breakfast before my test drive.
That means producing one car for one world.
The car began as the Belgium-made Ford Mondeo, Europe's 1993 "Car of the Year" best-seller. Contour and a Mercury variation called Mystique will be produced at Ford plants in Missouri and Mexico for the North American market.
Ford marshalled its global resources to design and develop Contour and siblings. The staggering effort adds up to three nameplates with two engines in five body styles coming together in three countries on two continents to produce 800,000 annual units destined for 59 global markets.
Contour shares about 90 percent of its content with Mondeo and Mystique, Trotman noted, adding that exterior sheetmetal and interior seat modifications for the North American versions reflect consumer preferences.
Study Contour's smooth lines and you'll notice a roundness to all shapes, with a dominant glass-ringed passenger compartment and a nose which looks vaguely like the styling on Ford's 1994 remake of Mustang.
Inside, Contour contains twin front bucket seats and a rear bench which cradles up to three adults.
The passenger compartment feels spacious and airy, thanks in part to that greenhouse expanse of glass. Details for comfort and convenience indicate thorough planning to design a cabin that caters to people.
For power, Contour offers two new choices.
The base in-line 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, labeled Zetec in Ford's marketing jargon, features aluminum alloy cylinder heads, four valves per cylinder, dual overhead cam configuration and sequential electronic fuel injection.
It produces 125 horsepower at 5500 rpm, plus fuel economy figures that lead Contour's competitive segment.
An optional twin-cam 2.5-liter V6 -- Ford's all-aluminum Duratec plant -- is world-class in design and output per size and weight. It pumps 170 hp at 6250 rpm.
Designed in an international conspiracy between Ford teams in North American and Europe liked by sophisticated telecommunications and Cray supercomputers, this plant is the world's first volume production engine to use Cosworth casting techniques -- developed by Ford and Cosworth for Formula One and Indy Car racing programs -- which yields dramatically light yet strong cylinder blocks and heads.
The V6 becomes the key component of Contour's Duratec system that encompasses a 4-wheel disc brake system, larger 14-inch wheels and tires, specific tuning for suspension and steering for a more active performance stance, and a remarkable maintenance promise of a 100,000-mile service interval for all but routine items.
Matching these two new worldly engines, Contour's advanced transmission choices include a new 4-speed electronic automatic that's the world's smallest for torque capacity. It's quiet, efficient and utterly unobtrusive.
The manual 5-speed variation, also lightweight and compact, feels tight and fluid and easy to manipulate. When linked to the base 4-cylinder Zetec engine, it turns what could otherwise be a tame machine into an active performer -- even on steep slopes like those California cliffs.
Sensitive rack and pinion steering and Ford's new Quadralink independent suspension system, which incorporates a form of passive rear wheel steering for cornering and braking, integrate to create a nimble, agile little car which takes on airs of a sportster.
Safety systems appear throughout Contour's design, beginning with what Ford calls a "Safety Cell" passenger compartment fortified from all angles by steel caging. Fore and aft crash zones, side and top bracing, dual airbags, anti-submarine seat ramps, adjustable seatbelts -- these and other ingredients work in concert to protect riders.
And anti-lock brakes and traction control are options.
Contour comes in three trim levels. The base Contour GL represents an economy mode, with competitive pricing and thrifty fuel efficiency numbers. It stocks the 4-cylinder engine and manual transmission, but still offers the V6 and automatic transmission optionally.
Contour LX builds on the GL by adding luxury and convenience equipment like power-operated controls and upgraded seat fabrics and features.
Contour SE stocks the V6 Duratec system and pitches toward a sportier performance mode.
My tests in various Contours included both engines and transmissions. In addition to the twisted coastal route, I drove versions at higher speeds on California freeways, in San Francisco's stop-and-go traffic and across the Golden Gate Bridge to reach meandering back roads of Napa Valley.
Through days of hands-on tests, I discovered Trotman's goal of creating quality cars for multiple markets has been achieved: Contour captures the convenience of an Asian sedan, the precision of a European, the practicality and economy of an American. It's world-class, and it's a Ford.
| Vehicle Specifications:
| 1995 FORD CONTOUR Specs
| Model Options:
| Overall Length:
| Engine Size:
||DOHC 2.0-L I-4 16v
DOHC 2.5-L V6 24v
All: Opt. ABS
| Gas Mileage:
||V6: 21/29 mpg
||$ 13,500 to $ 19,000